tv Lectures in History CSPAN October 31, 2015 8:00pm-9:01pm EDT
>> each week, american history tv sits in on a lecture with one of the nation's college professors. you can watch the classes here every sad evening at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern. >> next stanford university professor claiborne carson talks about martin luther king's career as a reverent. -- reverend. like his father, he was a pastor. an hour.bout who is martin luther king --
mr. carson: who is martin luther king? one side of him is a famous individual. he was a 1964 winner of the nobel peace prize. he was the most influential leader of a great social movement. who wase only american honored with a national holiday in his name. that is the uniqueness practically everybody in the world knows the name "martin luther king." the question i would like to address in this setting is who really was martin luther king? advantages of using a setting like this is that we can really practice history to which it be. it should not be about names and dates that you remember. it should be about the study of
the things that survive from the past. that is why a site, a historical site, is so important. that is why the king papers project, when karen scott king edited his papers, she understood that in the long run, what would survive where the papers that martin luther king produced during his lifetime. is part of what i would call the legacy of martin luther king. if we want to get close to who he warily -- she really was, really was, that is the best window that we haven't the past. melissa king produced a lot of papers. one that has -- martin luther king has produced a lot of papers.
as any great person, you have many great materials tork work with. all of these are important. i feel that my life is well served by doing this. we decide what will be the lasting memory of martin luther king. he rewe look at who we the was, we have to go back on the myth, back beyond the kind of person honored by the national holiday. the important thing about coming to a site like this is you begin to see the evidence from michael king, a person who existed martin luther king, the reverend martin luther king jr., that was the person who was born just up the street, a block up the
street at 501 auburn avenue. that i hope,person as you saw in that first home, home, you have in mind what kind of influence that historical building has on the making of martin luther king. fortunately, we not only have the birth home, we have a few documents viewed not as many as when he becomes famous. thousands of letters that we have. documents from people who wrote to him. all of those are part of the papers of martin luther king. when he was at going up, we don't have a lot to work with. is a few, what we have documents and a lot of memories.
some of the memories are not as reliable as the other memories. just think of a document that most of you have, your birth certificate. we have that from martin luther king. it tells us some important things about him. 1929. born on january 15, we know that the birth took place in that second floor bedroom in that home. something about the other names that are on that birth certificate. who would be on that? the father and the mother. thenow that that time martin lutheromes king senior is mike king at the time and is also living in the
house and alberta king is living there. something else that you begin to understand as you look at the other major documents from that. , the autobiography -- and that period, the autobiography of martin luther king, he writes his own autobiography. it is 14 pages. he does it for a class. we learn a number of things from that document. the third document that is more -- iss that the the memoir. terms, historians spare primary the long afterut it is
the fact so less valuable in some ways, but personal, so valuable in others. let us look at these. one of the things that we find is how is he born ? one of the things that the birth certificate indicates is that there was a midwife and a doctor. the doctor also lived on auburn avenue. what does that tell us about martin luther king? his neighborhood was diverse. a doctor could live in this neighborhood, but there were also working class people in this neighborhood. the fact that there was a midwife at the birth, which indicates that we are still looking at a family that is somewhat privileged. there was a doctor also attending. we can see from that that martin
luther king's early ringing -- the,nging was a mixture of i guess what i would call the statusg for middle-class , and the people that were predominant in this neighborhood were working-class. we can also see from this document that, at the time, his father is a preacher. where? right here. we can see that there is another person in his household. who is that? that is, at the time of his birth, both of the grandparents, who are still alive. his grandfather is also the minister of ebenezer church. the things that we can find by looking at both the birth
certificate, the autobiography of religious development, at these weren see that the forces that shaped him. , awing up in this home middle-class victorian home, two stories, six bedrooms, that was unusual. it gave him a certain amount of privilege. that he is see connected to the past. what does he say in the other biography -- in the autobiography? your first to his saintly grandmother -- he refers to his saintly grandmother who grew up telling him stories. she refers to him as her favorite grandson.
that is probably because he is the oldest, the one that comes along first. she tells him all the stories. the great influence on his life is going to be his father. what happens to his grandfather? he dies before martin luther king gets to know him. he dies when he is only about two years old. ebenezer?es him at his father. how does that happen? . in his memoir, we can tell little bit about that story. the fact that his mother-in-law is the widow of the person that almost founded this church gave him a great advantage. time, theat the reverend michael king was
skeptical about becoming the minister of ebenezer. why would that be? part of it was that he wanted to have his own church. ,f he had come to this church he would have gotten the position because he was a , or was this something he had earned on his own? he was skeptical about that. from his point of view, this was something that he would always be in the shadow of his father in law. it took him a while before he makes that decision to come in the pastor here -- and the pastobe pastor here. reverend williams was a successful person in his own time. when martin comes to atlanta in the years after world war i, he
comes from a very humble background. his father had been a sharecropper. ral poverty. he grows up trying to make it in the rural south not that far from atlanta. he is the type of person that is very ambitious. that leads him into the ministry. he wants to have a better life than plowing the fields. rudiments himself the of preaching. he has only a third grade education. he's barely literate, but he learns enough to read bible verses, memorizes lots of them. i,the years after world war he comes to atlanta. boarister, woody, is a der.
she is living across the street. she comes to visit her that she comes to visit her -- she comes to visit her and who does he see? alberta, on the porch. he decides she is going to be his wife. toalso decides, "i am going aspire to be a minister like reverend williams." he comes there and he knows that half literate preacher who just arrived in atlanta is not going to marry the daughter of a successful preacher. this is despite the fact that reverend williams comes from an almost identical background. earlier,me, 20 years by the time reverend king comes, already successful.
and decidess porch sunday, she is going to marry him. "but i know i have to get educated first." "i have to go and visit grammar school." he studies, gets out of grammar school, and decides, "now i need to go to morehouse college." president isthe john hope. with a little bit of encouragement, because reverend williams saw what was happening, would have theuy same drive and ambition he had, he puts in a good word. they did not have sat scores. he would never have gotten there.
does nothis person have very much of education, but he will work as hard as he can to get through. , when martinme luther king moves into the williams home, it is because he is a student. he gets married in the 1920's to alberta. it takes about five years. he decides he is going to go and get it to morehouse -- into morehouse. he gets in on probation. he is going to work really hard. , the first children 1927.hristine is born in he is still an undergraduate at morehouse. michael junior is born in
1929. this is not martin yet. when the next is born in 1930, he is finishing up ministerial studies. this is all taking place as he tries to gain his own stature. once reverend williams dies in the and he becomes preacher, the pastor of this church, what we see is that he has this drive. he not only wants to achieve what reverend williams has achieved, he wants to achieve even more. he wants to go out and create his own legacy. he comes to the ministry during the depression at a time when it is very difficult to bring in
new members, especially members who could provide donations to help the church along. to the 30'se church by providing services to the people. food. help with housing the church became a social service agency as well as a place for religious guidance, the kinds of things we refer to later as the "social gospel." this is the environment that martin grows up in. again, at that point, he is still michael king. how does he become martin king? that happens as part of that achieve his father to respectability. he changes his name. he later explained to changes it
because his father had had a brother named martin and another named luther. he understood the symbolism of martin luther. germany,st been to berlin, in 1934, for the world congress of baptism. this is the first time, 100 years after the founding of ,ater baptism -- modern baptism and they have a world conference. here is reverend king, one of perhaps a dozen black ministers who make it to berlin in 1934 to attend this meeting. he comes back, and by that time, this is the symbol of what he has achieved. he makes the decision, i'm going to change my name.
that changes his son, because he is junior. he becomes reverend martin luther king senior and martin luther king jr.. i'm giving you this background because i think that this helps to explain why this place is so important. why the birth home is such an important place. this is where, literally, martin luther king junior changed his identity. this is the place where he has his early experiences. this is the important thing that comes through in that wonderful document, the autobiography of religious development. that is something that he writes ating his first year theological seminary. to write a handwritten paper. i would love to show you it, just to see the way in which he
kind of sketches out his life. he says, "i was born in 1929 on the eve of the great depression, which spread its disastrous arms throughout the nation." that is how he comes to his anti-capitalist view of the world. that's all in the first paragraph. have you ever read a document the reveal so much more than that? just from its beginning? those of you in this class understand that beginning, because it is the beginning of the auto biography. this seems like the perfect place to begin his story. what i like to emphasize is that, in so many other ways, that influence the person who we honor today. because, he also talks about the influence of his father. he does not spend as much time
with his mother. she is behind the scenes, taking care of those essential things that you need in life. he talks about his grandmother, who he has this special attachment to. a saintlycribed as grandmother, who told him these wonderful stories about the origins of the family. what else does he look at? i think what it does is it allows us to understand the most important decision he makes during the first 20 years of his life. that is the decision to become a minister. assume is that because his grandfather is a minister, his father is a minister, well of course he is going to become a minister. actually, for exactly those reasons, he decided, no, i am
not going to become a minister. that's not what i'm going to do. why was at? -- why was that? part of it was useful rebelliousness and not wanting to -- useful rebelliousness and not wanting to follow the route of the parents. part of this comes out in his autobiography, his early religious doubts. church.in the basemen in the basement of this church, in sunday school, what shapes him? well, he begins to learn things in sunday school. maybe some of you have the same experience. as you get older, you begin to doubt some of those things. sanctuary, an incident happens when he was, i think we have dated it at seven years old when it happens.
there is a religious revival that takes place here. a visiting minister, one of the ways in which ministers of their congregation is they would invite a revivalist to come in. usually, it's some spellbinding person who can get to the emotions of people. what happens in a service at a certain point? people are asked to come forward at a certain point and testify about accepting jesus as their savior. well, what does martin luther king experience? he is sitting in the church. just imagine this. he is the preacher's son. , his older sister comes up. he is sitting there. ok, do i go up or do i not go up? he decides to come forward.
says he felt bad about that. he says he was not doing this out of inner conviction, he was doing it to keep up with his sister. that becomes one of the shaping things that he talks about in his autobiography that shapes his religious views. then, what happens later? he gets to about 13. he's in the basement of the sunday school class. he starts to question the bodily resurrection of jesus. that doesn't sound right. he questions whether to take that literally or just figuratively. a 13-year-old is not supposed to be doing that. martin luther king starts to says, "to these
doubts began to come forth unrelentingly, once i began to question." of course, he is not going to make the decision to follow his father into the ministry as long as he has these doubts. so, the theme of the autobiography is that struggle to overcome these doubts. in the process of the 14 page document, you can trace the beginning of his consciousness as a religious person. he has to overcome these doubts or else he cannot make this decision to become a minister. how does he overcome that? well, it happens at morehouse college. he goes to morehouse college. he takes the only course at morehouse for which he gets in
a.that should give some hope to you. you can achieve great things without a wonderful gpa. [laughter] happens is that this is only class on religion that he takes at morehouse. he is taught by professor named george kelsey. i had the privilege of meeting george kelsey. , well a wonderful educated person who i could see a martin would see as a role model. because, from his own father, he gets this kind of religion that is what i would call "old-time religion." a lot of emotion, not too much and reason theology and things like that. kelsey, what he gets
is that you have to get behind the myth of the bible. , you havehe stories to understand what is their deeper meaning. george kelsey is a well-educated person who have studied the bible and understood a lot of the historical context and sees it as a historical document, something that you could go back "why did they write this the way that they did?" what you find from that is that here he is, doing this when probably most of us are not trusting the way he did. really that he is
striking is that he is doing to set 13 years old, 14 years old, , at a time when most of us except things without much deeper thought. the ghost of his. of questioning -- he goes to this period of questioning. kelsey teaches him the rudiments of how you look at the bible as a historical document, something that he really is drawn to. actually, that's later, actually, as he goes off to seminary, he finds that by going to this liberal -- and what i mean by liberal is that within the spectrum of seminaries, there are those that teach the bible as the word of god, don't question even a single word, to the other extreme of saying that
this is something that you could question just like any other historical document, in fact one of the things that you will remember from reading taylor is that youount should spend the first year breaking down all the leaks you think you have before you start building up those that can be capable of withstanding criticism. by the time he actually leads -- leavesl -- leads hig high school, he is still a very young person and begins to see from the class a way of reconciling the admiration he has for his father. that comes through in his autobiography. father'ss his
commitment to change society, to bring justice. his father has the basis of the social gospel, but he also has more fundamentalist view of the bible. so, what young martin wants to do is to take that commitment that he sees in his father. itin his father and combine with the air edition, the intellectualism of george kelsey and of course benjamin mays, who is the great influence. benjamin mays and george kelsey. these are highly educated ministers, passionate in their religious beliefs, but also intellectuals. so, i think that what we get from understanding the thattance of being here is
this is where it all happened. two blocks of your, -- of here, the important events of martin luther king's life happened. this is what shaped him into the person that we know. we can trace back to the writings. ,- that through the writings through the documents that we have here. what we have that is a very essential part of the papers of martin luther king is that so many of those papers are religious papers. he had to work things out in terms of his religious beliefs. that was the fundamental basis of martin luther king. conclude, i would say that if
we look closely at those papers, what we find is that he is defining his mission as a minister. one of the early papers that he seminary in his is asked byhe professor what is going to guide his ministry. he says, "i'm going to deal with unemployment, economic ."security civil rights is not on the list. what is he doing 20 years later? this is 1948, what is he doing in 1968? slums, unemployment, economic and security. -- economic insecurity.
what i suggest use that when we look at the martin luther king who had his formative expenses here at ebenezer and the home of the street -- informative experiences at ebenezer and street, of thyup the these are the essential formative experiences. when we look at it from the perspective of the person who experience, weis see that he emerged in a way that had not fundamental he changed fro. undamentallymiddle eas
changed. rosa parks transformed him into a civil rights leader. all those changes that took place from the montgomery bus boycott to the voting rights act , he could very well have said, "i do not ask for this job, i was kind of asked to take this job of being a civil rights leader, but i did a pretty good ."b, let me go home and rest the civil rights act as the last major piece of civil rights legislation. you see the direct line of the experiences that have occurred on this block in this neighborhood to 1968. what you see is that he was inching the crucial time
1965 and saying his work was not done. that was not my mission, my mission was much deeper than that. that explains why the person that helped pass the voting rights act ends of the year later in chicago -- up a year later in chicago. than that, launching the poor people's campaign and ending up in memphis. so, we are here. one of the things that would be so good, that is so good about being here, is not simply being in the building, but we also have some of the witnesses. one of the great witnesses of martin luther king's life is the reverend ct williams, who is
someone who shared that social gospel notion of christianity, and someone that knew martin luther king during the main years of his life. we are very privileged to be in and haveerful setting one of the witnesses, when the persons whose memory is very much to live -- still alive. i hate to refer to him as a historical artifact, but we can learn so much. [laughter] mr. carson: you're not finished yet. thank you so much. i want to open it up for any questions you might have. this is the place to ask. please. did dr. king--
sorry. did dr. king's experiences growing up in the church, being a preacher, influence his leadership style in the movement? mr. carson: the question is what did his experience in church have on his leadership style and the movement. one of the documents is that when he takes his first pulpit -- here, he was under his father sometimes, sometimes coming back in the summer to service the minister, give his father time to take a vacation. when he went to dexter avenue theist church and took pastor ship of the church, his father gave him advice based on his knowledge of how you run a
church. remember, the baptist church is somewhat unique in the sense that they can hire but also fire a minister. ok? there is this balance. this,nd king, who knew told his son you have to have a firm hand. you have this document were martin is talking about, giving us one of his first sermons to the congregation and says that, "in the church, authority comes on the pulpit to the pew, not the pew to the pulpit." why was that? because the minister represented an understanding of the word of god.
if you do not accept that authority, get another minister. that aspect of martin luther king were some of the young people didn't really get along that well with that idea, that in the civil rights world authority comes from the pulpit to the pews. there's this attitude that, "well, we are a grassroots organization, some of the power has to come from the grassroots to the leaders." affect the way in which he viewed his goals and the movement. yes? at what point in your life did you decide to study and ok
and his life as the right after mlk and his life as the right path for you? mr. carson: i decided i was almost destined for it. i look back, and i was at the march in washington. wast mrs. king when i researching my book. john hope franklin, the great historian, recommended me to her. that, there'sl just the serendipity of, i was -- at that time i really ofieved more in the view "bottom-up." one of the things about my first
is that it is, .ot from king's perspective she entrusted me with that mission. booknew that i'd written a , and i suspect that she had read it. even though i had come to that perspective, i would have sympathy for the movement. also, i would learn over time. i remember the first paper i did , after becoming the editor of , this luther king's paper is one of the first conferences after the national holiday.
i did a very public speech that the papers given at the conference. who is in the front row? moses,ng, but also bob the main organizer from sncc. personam as a sncc giving a talk as the editor of martin luther king's papers. i gave this talk, and the conclusion of it was that the movement would have happened born.f he had not been i certainly believe that. , and here's karen is talking kind of frowning -- here is coretta scott king kind of frowning.
i think maybe i'm not going to be lasting long in this job. [laughter] mr. carson: it forced me to rethink my own attitude. granttime i applied for a to do the king papers, i had to say, why is this important? why is it important? if king had never been born, why is it important? what did he provide to the movement? one way of understanding the last 30 years of my life is answering that question. i have to answer that question every day, every year. each year, i hope my answer becomes more sophisticated, that i understand that there was something essential. what i think was essential is that he was a visionary. people whoa lot of were good at mobilizing people.
there were organizers. there were people like bob moses, who were essential to the movement. even in montgomery. importantobinson less than martin luther king? i think she is more important in mobilizing that. martin luther king did not become the leader of the bus boycott until the afternoon of the first day of the boycott, which was 100% successful, just about. how did that happen? how did you have a successful boycott without martin luther king? he is selected to lead. isn't it wonderful, as a leader, that someone says we are have a successful movement, we just want you to keep it going? we want you to make it to the second day, the third day?
this is the bottom of the of movements, but if you ask yourself, you get to the 200th day of the boycott, and things are not changing. who is going to provide the inspiration about the visionary goals. if you think about it, most movements do not make sense. strike, or have a any kind of movement, a boycott? you put yourself through suffering. 381 days of people having to walk to work. these are people who cannot just say, "ok, i'm going to drive to work today." from that point of view, you could look at it and say
rationally, by the 200th day, they might say, "maybe i should write on the bus -- ride on the bus. it's raining outside. it's cold." but if you're listening to the montgomery of proven -- montgomery improvement association rally, and marketing is saying this is not about getting a better seat on the bus , this is about something that is going to affect your sense of dignity as a person, this is something that is about the sermon on the mount, this is something about the declaration of independence, this is about certain kinds of transcendent even when you have youalk to work in the rain do not want to go back and sit
on that bus. i think that is kind of the way i would balance it now. understanding that each of them have their roles. it was a complex movement. lots of people were in it who played perhaps the most important role they would play in the lifetime. that is what makes a great movement. martin luther king played his role be the what led him to great leader that we know. final question? ok. we talked before in class that martin luther king believed
--what christianity ought to do. is there any evidence that that's what he continued to believe later? mr. carson: the question about whether he believed that sermon that martin luther king delivered, that communism is a challenge to christianity. he gives that before the boycott.y bus are you familiar with that? >> we have to find where one starts. this is why religion works so well with it. we are talking about who, where are your values? are they really from the politics of your nation, or they
from the deeper spirit of your nation? so, the ministry works perfectly. the two are tied together there. you can have one without the other, but you cannot-- a takes both of them to keep capitalistic country going. mr. carson: one of the things i the reverendd to reverend's statement is part of the idea that king had about the social gospel is that he said, at one point in his life, i don't need to read karl marx to know that we should care about the poor and do justice for those were less fortunate. that comes from the sermon on the mount.
any christian should know that. part of what he was trying to get across was that if christianity -- if christians understood the message that goes back even before jesus, back to amos, isaiah, the great prophets , what was the message they were bringing to the jewish people? the message was that you have an obligation, a religious obligation to do this. god demands it of you. if you fail in that demand, that is going to bring that things to the jewish people. maybe by looking at it in that perspective, martin luther king would conclude that communism answers the right question with the wrong answer. , "howhe right question is
do we build a just society?" the difference would be that a communist would say, "by any means necessary." the idea that the ends justify the means. saying that the means that end,sed to get to that that determines what you get in the end. get to theforce to end, you have to maintain yourself using force. whoever is on the other side is not going to suddenly give up. you have people who are going to be overturning the revolution. you have a counterrevolution. you have another revolution. the cycle of violence goes on. his view is the only way you overcome that cycle is to understand that the means have
to be humane. have to be consistent with your moral principles. way, you build the possibility of a reconciled society, the "blood community." that you would have a society -- he would point to the differences between, say, a country that achieves independence nonviolently predominantly and those who had to go through revolutionary violence. he says, "look at the end result." you don't find in india today indians still fighting over the same things they were fighting over 100 years ago. understand that they can be reconciled with their former colonizers.
that is an interesting way of looking at it. understood that one of the things about that , i have looked at that sermon very carefully, and a lot of the basic ideas come up from the sermon that his father gave a decade earlier. he gives a sermon in 1953 and a very similar sermon in 1963. you have 20 years from his father to the son where they are making the same argument. it's not that surprising. they go back to the same biblical sources, the pro phets. think the things that i becomes clear after reading martin luther king is that it helps us to understand a lot of
the current debates going on about the world of religion where there's a lot of emphasis as theser leviticus homosexuality,t all of these things that are part of the bible. , what am i to decide going to emphasize as the essential teachings of my ? ligion if you just do a search on doing justice to the poor -- do research on doing justice to the poor, the idea that that is a n essential characteristic of any christian, you find that there is hundreds of mentions. it certainly is the most commonly mentioned theme. and yet, what happens in some churches?
you focus on the one passage and you miss the hundred other mentions of doing justice to those less fortunate. what do you take of the basic message that you should -- i g had martin luther kin come to the notion that religion is about changing the world as well as changing the soul. he talked about that in the terms of the "dual mission of christianity." some ministers would say that it does not matter what is happening in the world, all we should these concerned about -- should be concerned about is being civil. there are others who would say you have got to deal with both. why? he says in one of these early papers is a dual process. concerned about
the soul as well as the society in which the soul exists. unless you're concerned about both sides, you cannot service the needs of your congregation. that's it. [applause] >> join us each saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. and midnight eastern for classroom lectures from across the country on different topics and eras of american history. they are also available as podcasts. visit our website at which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] -- atry/podcast www.c-span.org /history/broadcast. foner discusses his recent book "gateway to
freedom," the hidden history of the underground railroad. uncoveredbout how he ,he story of sidney howard gay one of the key organizers behind helping escaped slaves in new york city. >> good evening. i am happy to be here with my esteemed colleague and friend, eric phonfoner. some years ago, i was doing some research and as i approached the library desk to retrieve archival material, i saw that the staff was animatedly whispering and pointing, because there had just been a celebrity
sighting. eric foner. [laughter] you: when i asked you what are doing, i got a modest, "oh just checking out some things about the underground railroad." book,e have is "gateways to freedom." i look forward to interacting with you later this evening. eric, you tell your readers that the story of the underground railroad is a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing. usually, historians think of a question and go in search of documents. sometimes we find extraordinary documents and let questions emerge. why don't you tell us about the document that you found in the columbia university archives? : is this on?this
thanks to the museum for inviting us here. thank you for interrogating me. it is like being back on my oral exams. [laughter] mr. foner: thank you for coming. i have written a good number of books, as was said. people often ask, "how do you choose what to write?" usually, it is some kind of historical question that you,nly interests whether it is the lincoln assassination or other things. then you decide what are the sources you need to use to answer this question? in this case, it works the other way around. mine, actually, and undergraduate history major, was writing her senior thesis on a little-known new york journalist, sidney howard gay, and abolitionist before the new
civil war. she was writing her senior his journalistic career. her veryi saw frequently, every afternoon she came around. she is now an attorney in new york city, so i do not want to return -- referred to her as a dog walker. she has a lot of social mobility there. [laughter] said to me,y she you know professor, inbox 72 there is a document about fugitive slaves. i do not know what it is and it is not relevant to me, but you may find interesting. one day i am up there and i say, what is this? bring the box 72. and there were these two little notebooks, in which sydney howard gay, who at that time was editing an abolitionist newspaper in new york, was also kind of